Prescott: Courthouse Plaza, Whiskey Row, Sharlot Hall Museum & More

Prescott is located half-way between Phoenix and Flagstaff. At a mile high in elevation, Prescott stays about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Phoenix and 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Flagstaff.

If for you these last few months stuck in coronavirus quarantine have felt a little weird, you’re not alone. For me, April seemed to take forever. Now, in May, I can’t remember what day it is half the time. I’m starting to feel like I’m enduring a perpetual time loop, reliving the same day over and over.

Today is Tuesday. I think. As we pack up the RV and head out on a road trip for Prescott to explore “Everybody’s Hometown”.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in a stunning mountain bowl and surrounded by one of the largest ponderosa pine forests in the West, the beautiful town of Prescott is steeped in history with an authentic taste of western heritage. Unlike most towns in the West that occurred haphazardly by the promise of cheap land, the availability of water, or the craze of prospectors or speculators, Prescott was designed as a proper city from the beginning.

Fremont House, Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Miners prospecting for gold first settled this area. It was that presence of gold that prompted President Lincoln to designate Arizona as a territory in 1863. The cash-poor Union was two years into the Civil War.

Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lincoln dispatched a contingent of loyal Midwesterners and New Englanders to build the territorial capital here in the north-central part of the territory. This was a political play, as he wanted to keep the Arizona Territory in the Union camp. He definitely did not want governing power in its southern reaches—namely Tucson, 200 miles south—where Confederate sympathies prevailed.

Watson Lake, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1867 with the war over, Arizona’s capital finally shifted to Tucson. It moved back here later, but shifted permanently to Phoenix in 1889.

Thus Prescott was created and by outsiders from back east. It was their prim, aesthetic temperament and sense of decorum that forged the town’s character which continues strong to this day.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With shaded trees, well-kept yards, and Victorian houses of an earlier era, Prescott seems the idealized small town. Courthouse Plaza, dominated by the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse, works for me as the classic town square—the centerpiece of Anytown, USA. In the evenings, people show up here to read, stroll, play on the grass, or just sit and talk.

Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While walking around the Courthouse Plaza, we encountered the bronze statue of Captain Bucky O’Neill, a Rough Rider, sitting astride his mount. Created by noted Western sculptor Solon Borglum, brother of the creator of Mount Rushmore’s four notable presidents, this memorial to the Rough Riders has been called one of the finest equestrian bronze sculptures in the world. Locals refer to it as the “Bucky O’Neill statue” in honor of a former mayor who died at the Battle of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War.

Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beneath the statue, etched in cement, a time line denotes past historic events, such as: 1869, John Wesley Powell explores the Grand Canyon; 1945, World War II ends; and 1912, Arizona achieves statehood.

Lynx Lake, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On one side of the Court House Plaza is Whiskey Row. It’s more sedate now than it was prior to 1900 when the whiskey flowed and the faro tables were jammed 24 hours a day in its forty or so saloons.

Whiskey Row, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In spite of its “proper” beginning, Prescott was a cowboy town. In the early 1900s, there were some 40 saloons along the wooden sidewalk of Montezuma Street. The Palace Saloon was one of them. It is still here, serving whiskey and beer at the oldest bar in the state.

Fremont House, Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John C. Fremont, the storied Western explorer and Civil War general was the territorial governor here for five years. Fremont’s home has been moved to the site of the Sharlot Hall Museum. Prescott boasts 525 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Several important structures forming part of the Sharlot Hall Museum complex—two blocks from the Courthouse Plaza—were relocated there to save them from destruction.

Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We wandered the complex visiting the governor’s mansion, the log cabin called Fort Misery and the 1875 home of John Charles Fremont, who became Arizona’s colorful governor in 1878.

Fremont House, Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Strolling the meandering walkway from building to building felt like visiting a quaint 1860s village. From the Bashford House, we walked past the ornate gazebo to the Fremont House. Though sparse by today’s standards, the cottage back then stood clapboard and gingerbread above the rough log house across the path that functioned as the Governor’s Mansion at the time.

Prescott from Thumb Butte Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.

—Diane Arbus

4 Small Town Gems in Arizona

Arizona is blessed with small town gems you’re sure to enjoy

Arizona is blessed with small towns that beg to be explored. But no matter how many times you may have visited, here are things you probably didn’t know about them.

Visiting small towns is one of the great joys of travel. Combine scenic beauty, easy access, and welcoming main street businesses and you’ve got all the makings of a memorable day trip.

We’ve explored Arizona and found these four small-town gems you’re sure to enjoy.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bisbee

Two- and three-story buildings built of brick and stone line Main Street as if holding back the canyon walls rising sharply along its length. Bisbee’s slopes display a century’s worth of architecture, from historic inns to refurbished, modern-looking former miners’ shacks.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bisbee thrives on a laid-back foundation of artists, entrepreneurs, and free thinkers. Whether you’re exploring the shops downtown, the drinking establishments of Brewery Gulch, or the town’s dizzying network of concrete stairs, you’ll be welcomed with a smile. 

Copper Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Claim to fame: Put on a yellow rain slicker, climb aboard a rail car, and rumble into the heart of a mountain. The Copper Queen Mine Tour follows what was once one of Bisbee’s richest veins, mapped by men with no fear of dark, enclosed spaces.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Prescott

On sunny, mild weekends—and so many of them are—residents and tourists flock to the grassy square at the heart of downtown. In view of the Yavapai County Courthouse, a four-story granite structure looming like a castle, many stake claims to shady spots under spreading elms, or people-watch from the courthouse steps.

Sharlott Hall Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Others browse the shops, restaurants and bars that box in the 4-acre plaza, a design that’s as perfect today as it was in 1864 when the town was laid out. Founders couldn’t have envisioned the role the plaza now plays, hosting more than 100 festivals and events annually. The square is not just Prescott’s heart, but its soul.

Granite Cliffs and Watson Lake, Prescott

Claim to fame: Step back in time at the Palace Restaurant Saloon and Restaurant. Opened in 1877, the state’s oldest bar is one of the most popular stops on Whiskey Row and once hosted Doc Holliday as well as Wyatt and Virgil Earp. The Palace burned to the ground in 1900 but not before patrons carried the bar itself to safety. That original Brunswick bar remains, polished smooth over more than a century of use. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Jerome

The way buildings cling precariously to the side of Cleopatra Hill, it’s as if gravity has been suspended in this former mining town. Jerome is laid out vertically, with Arizona 89A switchbacking through it. The Verde Valley spreads out below in one of the most accessible vistas in Arizona. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

With few signs of the mine shafts that run through Cleopatra Hill like a honeycomb, Jerome now thrives on tourism, enhanced by a welcoming vibe exuded by artists and small-business owners.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Claim to fame: The town may be Arizona’s most haunted. Many visitors hoping for a spontaneous outbreak of spirits can play it by eerie at the Jerome Grand Hotel. The building opened in 1927 as the United Verde Hospital and since then guests and staff have reported all sorts of unearthly activity, from apparitions and flickering lights to disembodied voices. The hotel looms over Jerome and even appears menacing at sunset. That’s a great time to duck into its bar, The Asylum, where spirits of a different kind are served.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Sedona

The first glimpse of Sedona is one of awe. Towers and walls of red rock surround the hamlet like a fortress. But rather than keep visitors out, the surreal landscape attracts tourists by the thousands. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Claim to fame: Many come to Sedona to experience the spiritual energy said to emanate from vortexes. Those open to the possibilities may feel psychic forces energize and heal them, per adherents. Even if you don’t believe, it’s worth visiting the vortexes because they happen to be in some of Sedona’s most scenic spots, such as Bell Rock and Airport Mesa. 

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

3 Arizona Destinations to Explore During Spring Training

In Phoenix for Spring Training! Spend some downtime exploring the Arizona outfield with these incredible day trips.

If you’ve come to Phoenix for spring training, or simply to escape the winter, you may not have thought about exploring the rest of Arizona.

If you return home after seeing seven games in seven days, but nothing of Arizona you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of the season!

But even the most diehard of spectators will find pockets of downtime. So it’d be a big swing and miss if you didn’t sneak off and explore the surrounding area: Seriously, the unreal landscapes, cultural riches, and award-winning eats add up to a stellar bonus vacation.

Here are some of Arizona’s can’t-miss destinations, and what you can do there in just a day.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Back in the day, men went where the precious ore was, no matter how precarious the landscape. Today, Jerome still clings for dear life to Cleopatra Hill, having successfully transitioned from mining town to tourist-friendly destination with restaurants, galleries and, best of all, a great view at every hairpin turn.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Must see: Imagine a dark and stormy night where a bolt of lightning illuminates a large building looming over a small town! That’s the Jerome Grand Hotel, a former hospital now home to guests (and a few spirits, if legends are to be believed).

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cliched tourist activity actually worth doing: Jerome is supposedly among Arizona’s most haunted towns (its largest public venue is called Spook Hall). Take a tour and learn all about those who are living the afterlife.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Insider tip: One of the best views also comes with a burger and a beer. Head to Haunted Hamburger and take a seat on the back porch.

How much time to allot: It’s a four-hour round trip, so six hours should do (seven if you eat, eight if you take a ghost tour).

Prescott

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If Arizona has a classic small town, this is it. From historic bars and hotels to a downtown centered round a formidable courthouse, Prescott is a casting agent’s dream with it comes to finding a charming village.

Whiskey Row, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Must see: Stroll along Whiskey Row (Montezuma Street), which earned its moniker at the turn of the 20th century. There may be fewer bars, but the historic charm remains, particularly at the Palace Restaurant and Saloon. In July 1900, as flames approached in a massive fire that would destroy much of Prescott, patrons dragged the bar to safety, and then returned for the liquor.

Sharlott Museum, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cliched tourist activity actually worth doing: As you enter the Palace Saloon and smile at workers in 1880s costumes, belly up to the historic bar and order a shot of whiskey, as countless cowboys have done.

Watson Lake and Granite Dells, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Insider tip: Duck into Matt’s Saloon and see if you can find the photo of Bruce Springsteen. The bartenders have an interesting tale of how The Boss stopped by September 29, 1989, and left a huge tip for a server in need.

How much time to allot: Six hours. Half of that time will be spent driving there and back.

Cottonwood

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Long ago this once-sleepy town was regarded as the gateway to, well, just about anywhere else. But thanks to its thriving wine scene and quaint Old Town packed with tasting rooms, Cottonwood has become the darling of the wine set.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Must see (and drink): The best wine tour in the area is right along Main Street. Five winery tasting rooms are within a block of one another. Each offers unique, locally made wines. You may be surprised how well “Arizona” and “fine wines” go together.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Cliched tourist activity actually worth doing: Climb aboard a steed (well, a very gentle horse) for a ride along the Verde River in Dead Horse Ranch State Park. It is best if you experience this authentic old-west trek before you hit the tasting rooms.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Insider tip: If you have a designated driver (or you can pace yourself) take a ride to sample the offerings of nearby winemakers. Page Springs Cellars and Alcantara Vineyards have indoor and outdoor seating with views of the vines. The Southwest Wine Center, in a sleek, modern space on the Yavapai College campus, pours wines made entirely by students, right down to the labels.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

How much time to allot: That depends. Are you drinking and driving? Stay overnight. If you’re bringing along a designated driver, plan on seven or eight hours. With a 3½-hour round-trip drive, you’ll have plenty of time to sample all your favorite vintages.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers